Feb 24th: “Spoorloos” (1988)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
I hadn’t seen this version until a couple of years ago, but I was always aware of it because of it’s chilling sense of claustrophobia. The point of view that this film takes is extremely unconventional. It was a surprise, to think that the director would then remake this movie for the hollywood audience. Perhaps he thought it would make better takings. The 1993 remake could have been something amazing, but as with most remakes, comparisons are never far behind. Like many underrated films that come out of Europe, they often fail because of the language barrier that comes between us all. For US audiences, it was clear that they weren’t willing to yet accept a film, with subtitles, and with no names for which to identify with. It’s a relief that this attitude has changed over the recent decades.
For me the turning point was in 1994, with Burnt By the Sun. Since then, I’ve never taken an international film for granted, or assumed it’s no good simply because I don’t know anyone in it. I could have had many other international films grace this list, but there is fine line as to what is celebrated in one country, but virtually invisible to the rest of the English speaking world. Perhaps that will be a list of its own someday, but for now, Spoorloos speaks for all which didn’t carry the accolades that he so rightly deserved.
In Spoorloos — which translates as without a trace — Rex and Saskia are a complicated couple in love. As they head through France for a cycle trip, they laugh, and talk. Saskia talks about a reoccurring dream where she is drifting through space inside a golden egg. The most recent of this dream series involves seeing another egg coming towards her. She believes that, with the collision of the two eggs will come a great change. The end of something. Where eggs symbolise birth, ultimately, it would become the opposite and indeed, the end of something.
Things between them do change dramatically as they run out of petrol in one of those ominous winding tunnels. Naturally Rex has to leave the car to get petrol, and Saskia is expected to stay with the car. They argue. She doesn’t want to be left alone in the darkness. Saskia is afraid. Rex shows an unpleasant side by ignoring her plights and leaves her stranded, waiting in the car, in a dark tunnel with all its dangers of vehicle collisions and darkness playing against darkness. As Rex walks away, he’s almost enjoying it. At least their relationship in this moment isn’t boring.
After the event, the relationship appeared fragile. Both feel the tear, the rift that came between them. Saskia might be having second thoughts about the trip, and about Rex.
They appear to patch things up by the time they reach a rest stop. Maybe things are okay after all. Maybe this was just a test, and as she leaves to buy the two drinks in the busy store, everything appears to be fine. Rex watches her walk away, and then that’s it. She never returns.
Spoorloos — or The Vanishing as it was otherwise known — isn’t a typical mystery about who-dun-it. On one side, we stay with Rex who three years later is still trying to find out what happened to Saskia. On the other, we get to know Raymond — the man who not only kidnapped Saskia from that rest stop, but had murdered her soon after. We learn that Raymond is a cold yet courteous, family focused, chemistry teacher, without a conscience. As an audience, we are every bit an accomplice, watching as we flash back at his preparations. We learn how to keep a person under with chloroform. We watch as he tests the rural crime scene surroundings by playing practical jokes on his family, testing to see how far their screams will travel through the wilderness. Perhaps he’s preparing himself for what he must later endure when he takes Saskia back there and then, ultimately leaves her behind to her fate, sealed within her nightmarish metaphorical egg.
He is a man who lives on the extremes of the black and white. He’s not so good at the grey areas, where Rex thrives on. He’s neither here nor there. A drifter who simply wants to put to rest the mystery of Saskia’s disappearance. Rex has to live on without closure, never knowing whether or not she was alive or dead. Not knowing what had happened to her eats away at him preventing him from moving on with his life. In a way, not knowing is keeping her alive. To know would mean there would be nothing left.
Indeed, the same appears to be on the mind of the killer, Raymond, who too is still connected to the triangle, for as long as Rex hasn’t given up, they are ultimately linked to one another, with no chance of moving forward.
The cruel twist of fate would be that the only way for Romeo to be with Juliet would be to drink from the poison that supposedly took her life, and as her dream had foreshadowed, Rex finally finds himself sealed in his golden egg, which is also where Saskia went. Buried alive, with no means of escape.
The film was based on Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg (1984). Tim Krabbe and Sluizer would work together on the screenplay, and then eventually part ways through disagreements in later drafts. As Sluizer had the rights to the story, Krabbe would have no choice but to walk away and leave the destiny in the hands of Sluizer.
Sluizer would eventually remake The Vanishing for the American audience. At that time, foreign language films weren’t hitting the Hollywood market, and a remake was requested, although, it was not the same movie. It carried none of the metaphor or symbolism of the golden egg, which was at the very heart of the original film.
Also, there was a different ending, as it seemed, the studio had neither the vision or the trust that the American audience could handle the original dark ending. The US version that came out in 1993 had Rex break free of his fate and kill the monster, and accepting his loss with triumph over evil. That was never the point. The happy ending made everything that happened before meaningless.
The remake was neither under or overrated. It’s an obvious discard that doesn’t even deserve a revisit. The original however stays with you, and it’s ending, if you read it right, can stay with you. The audience ends up as the only party who cannot be given any closure.